Consumer Alert: how to spot a utility scam

Published: Feb. 13, 2018 at 3:11 PM CST
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Scammers have been impersonating utility workers with the intention of getting inside homes to steal. There have been recent reports of this crime happening in Green Bay, Oshkosh and Sheboygan.

Wisconsin Public Service is one of those utilities. Scammers will pose as WPS workers, knock on doors, and claim they've arrived to make repairs.

Not so fast, says WPS spokesperson Matt Cullen.

"If someone arrives at your door and says they're with WPS and you're not sure of the legitimacy of that employee, always ask to see an identification badge," Cullen says.

Cullen says employees expect to be asked to show ID with their picture and employee number.

"That is something that our employees are required to have on them at all times while they're at work," Cullen says.

Residents will often get a letter about upcoming projects in the neighborhood.

However, it's different when there are storms. Utility crews will come unannounced after inclement weather.

"If you're not sure, if someone can't produce that identification badge, do not let them into your home," Cullen says. "Contact us immediately. We can verify whether or not one of our authentic employees has tried to reach out to you as a customer."

Residents also need to be alert for phone scams with utility impostors.

Scammers called Capital Credit Union in Green Bay. They told the accounting department that the utility bill wasn't paid.

"The accounting department knew, but they called WPS right away to make sure," says Tom Young, President/CEO, Capital Credit Union. "And WPS informed us that they've been having scams like that going on. It's too bad. Some people will fall for it."

Here are the signs that it's a scam:

--The urgent tone. Scammers will threaten to disconnect your service in less than an hour.

--Form of payment. Scammers will ask for payment via pre-paid debit cards or iTunes cards. Why? Those payments are untraceable. Utility companies will NEVER ask for these forms of payment.

"If someone is threatening you, hang up and call us right away," Cullen says.

Remember, utilities cannot shut of power during the winter months.

"There is a winter moratorium that is in effect in the state of Wisconsin from Nov. 1 to April 15, and another important thing to remember is disconnection is always last resort for us," Cullen says.

Young urges people to be cautious at all times.

"Whether it's WPS, the IRS, anybody that's calling you, follow up with a phone call," Young says. "It's an easy phone call to make and nine times out of 10 it's not going to be true."

Report suspicious visit or call to WPS by calling the 24-hour customer service line at 800-450-7260.

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